Last week’s article dealt complexities that relate to our giving to support ministry. This month we will tackle some of those that relate to mission and poor-care. I’ve decided to address these two together because in many ways the common questions raised and issues that need addressing relate equally to both, but also because often the two go together. To repeat a common illustration: if you feed a starving man but never tell him the gospel, you may keep him alive for a few dozen more years, but ultimately he will still die and remain unsaved; however, if you try and tell a starving man the gospel without feeding him he wont be able to listen to you because he’s desperately trying to find bread. If the kingdom of God is about justice and salvation, if it is both now and not yet, if it is about loving God and loving people, then poor-care and mission are inextricably linked to one another. Following Jesus is about life before and after death.
You have probably had the experience of someone knocking on your door to ask you to support whatever charity they happen to represent. Repeat 100 times with 100 different charities. We simply cannot support every good cause or give to everyone who asks of us – it is functionally impossible. So how do we decide? Here are some principles that may help:
If possible, support a Christian organisation/person. This is for the simple reason made in the first paragraph that human beings need not only practical aid but spiritual transformation. There are many horror stories of where this has gone wrong, but in principle it remains clear that to choose justice or mission is reductionistic, we are called to both. Of course, there may be some cases where no good Christian option is available, where it is, we should take it.
If possible, support an organisation/person that you have a level of personal connection with:If we have real relationship then there is better trust, accountability and ownership of what we give to.
We are more likely to support not just financially, but with prayer and personal availability as well.
It is very natural to support causes that we’ve had some personal connection with and so as a simple matter of preference this is a legitimate factor!
If we never engage in our own neighbourhood something has gone wrong. There is a certain incongruity in those who deeply care about Malawi, but ignore the poor single Mum struggling next door. We must be engaged with the needs on our doorstep.
Having said that, the vast majority in our society do not really need more money. There are some exceptions, but on the whole, even the ‘poor’ in the UK who are in debt or struggling to eat do often have enough money coming in. The issues are often more around their wider circumstances that contribute to an inability to steward their resources. This is not to blame them, but to be clear that often such people need great personal involvement from us, but not necessarily lots of our money. Globally, however, there are billions of people living on less than £2 per day who may have much greater need of financial resources (although see some comments below).
I’m sure you, like me, have heard enough horror stories of charities corrupted, individuals who have stolen money, organisations abusing those they’re meant to support. So the following questions are very important, especially with people and organisations we don’t know well personally:
Are they primarily doing what we’re supporting them to do? (How ‘Christian’ are many Christian charities? How much are they spending on overheads, fundraising, etc.?)
Do they have a wholistic view of humans – and attempt to address all their needs?
Are they highly accountable? To who? What’s available in the public domain? Will they answer all your questions when you want more information?
Is their work appropriate and effective? There are often good-hearted people who do a terrible job; on the whole, they should not be supported.
You may want to read something like Bryant Myers’ Walking with the Poor to deepen your understanding of the complexities involved in charity/aid work. Myers is a committed Christian who helped lead World Vision for many years. Also practically helpful are some of the suggestions in Craig Blomberg’s Christians in an Age of Wealth, although the bulk of the book is on a biblical theology of stewardship.
For a sober analysis of some international aid charities and recommendations on what might be the most effective ways to give, try www.givewell.org. Note: this is not a Christian organisation and does not give any special place to Christian charities.
Two Christian charities I would recommend starting with are Open Doors and Compassion.
Justice and Charity
There is no point buying cheap chocolate, that was made using coco beans from an oppressed farmer, so that we can save a bit of money to give to the poor farmers who grow coco beans for unethical chocolate makers! However actually making decisions about ethical buying is difficult; here are a few points you may want to consider:
Although there is always a balance between giving to charity and buying more expensive ethical products, we must incline towards justice rather than charity. Ethical buying can never become an excuse for living in luxury or avoiding the Christian call to a simple life of ‘enough’. Many ethical goods are aimed at high-end consumers. We may want to consider supporting organisations that work for structural change in the public square as well as buying ethical products.
Buy fairtrade products as often and consistently as you can manage.
Subscribe to www.ethicalconsumer.org. As well as supporting their work you get access to their product guides that gives you some idea of the ethics of the companies behind products we buy regularly. There is also scope to ‘personalise’ their score tables by adjusting which ‘ethical’ concerns are most important to us. This is really helpful as we are not all agreed on what is ethical! (For example, some would enthusiastically support buying Israeli products made on West Bank settlements, others would equally enthusiastically oppose it; you can negate ‘political’ concerns if you don’t want that area of ‘ethics’ factored into the scores).
Many campaigning organisations like ‘sumofus’ or ‘therules’ are happy for you to support the particular campaigns you care about. Also, lobbying your MP on justice issues where appropriate is another meaningful course of action.
William Wilberforce led the movement that eradicated slavery in the UK. This was a struggle for justice that was fought in many ways, but amongst them was political involvement and decades of campaigning. Well, global economic injustice bears many similarities to the slave trade: it oppresses and kills countless human beings, but is largely accepted by most of the West, including most who call themselves Christians, just as slavery was. Most of us cannot devote our lives to the cause as Wilberforce did (he had a lot of inherited wealth!), but we must each ask ourselves what we can do to make a difference as an expression of devotion to Jesus and the gospel.